By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 1998; Page A02
The CIA has refused to give human rights investigators in Honduras the
names of Honduran military officers suspected of executing a leftist leader
in 1983, reigniting a debate waged earlier this year in Congress over
legislation that would have compelled disclosure by the agency even if it
meant revealing the identity of confidential intelligence sources.
In a newly declassified report on "selected issues relating to CIA activities
in Honduras in the 1980s," the CIA makes repeated references to military
officers it believes tortured and executed Jose Maria Reyes Mata, a
Cuban-trained doctor and guerrilla leader, during a counterinsurgency
operation in 1983.
But agency censors blacked out the names of those officers throughout the
230-page document, written by the CIA's inspector general. The report
was turned over Oct. 22 to the Honduran human rights commissioner, Leo
Reyes Mata "was captured . . . and executed by [deleted] while in custody
of the Honduran military," the report states in one of two dozen redacted
references to the officer or officers suspected of the execution. A Capitol
Hill source who has seen both the original secret report and the
declassified version with redactions said the name or names appear to have
been deleted to protect intelligence sources.
Despite those deletions, the report acknowledges for the first time that
CIA knew at the time of "death squad" activities linked to Honduran
military personnel with whom the U.S. government had close ties. The
report also acknowledges that CIA officials in Honduras failed to fully
reveal the extent of those human rights violations to agency headquarters or
Valladares and human rights researchers at the Washington-based
National Security Archive who are working with him to obtain and
catalogue declassified U.S. documents have credited the agency with
finally disclosing its overall knowledge of human rights abuses in Honduras
during the 1980s, when the United States was underwriting military efforts
against leftists in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The researchers say the inspector general's report, even with entire
sections redacted, is a treasure trove of new information that should help
Valladares' work in Honduras. His investigation into 184 documented
disappearances in the 1980s thus far has led to charges being filed against
20 military officers.
The name or names of those suspected of executing Reyes Mata,
according to Susan C. Peacock, a research fellow at the National Security
Archive, "would be a major clue that we could follow up on. Reyes Mata's
family is still alive, his mother and sisters and brothers. And they are keenly
interested in his fate."
A U.S. official responded that the declassified CIA report had provided
Valladares with detailed information about the circumstances of Reyes
Mata's execution and, while not naming names, specifically referred to a
special forces "field commander" thought to have been responsible. The
official also said the United States would provide "amplifying information
on the incident through government-to-government human rights channels."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said last week that the CIA and
other U.S. government agencies have an "obligation" to turn over "all
relevant information that may shed light on an individual's involvement or
responsibility for the murder or disappearance" of Reyes Mata and others
killed in Honduras.
Dodd noted that the CIA would have been forced to reveal the identity of
those it suspects in Reyes Mata's execution under legislation he
co-sponsored with 20 other senators, including Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), the
ranking Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The legislation, narrowly defeated in the Senate in September, would have
established an expedited declassification process for documents sought by
human rights investigators in Honduras and Guatemala and created a panel
to review declassification decisions made by the CIA.
The bill also would have prohibited the agency from withholding
information about an individual's involvement in human rights abuses "solely
because that individual was or is an intelligence source."
CIA Director George J. Tenet lobbied strenuously against the bill, which
was opposed on the Senate floor by Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.),
chairman of the intelligence committee. "This amendment . . . is woefully
inadequate in protecting intelligence sources and methods and, as a result,
will chill current and future sources from providing the CIA with critical
information," Shelby said.
The inspector general's report into human rights abuses in Honduras was
ordered in 1995 by then-CIA Director John M. Deutch following a series
of articles in the Baltimore Sun alleging that the CIA had trained and
equipped a unit known as Battalion 316 and ignored evidence of the
battalion's involvement in death squad activities.
Much of the report concerns what the CIA knew, and what it officially
reported to headquarters and Congress, about the deaths of Reyes Mata
and an American priest, the Rev. James F. Carney.
At a time when Honduras became a central operating area for U.S. military
and CIA efforts to topple the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and defeat
leftist insurgents in El Salvador, Reyes Mata led a band of 96
Nicaraguan-trained rebels and Carney, their unarmed chaplain, across the
Nicaraguan border and into the Olancho region of Honduras, hoping to
ignite an insurgency inside the country. But the Honduran military routed
The declassified inspector general's document cites conflicting intelligence
reports about Carney's fate, some of which concluded that he had been
executed, and some of which reported that he was sick and weak during
the incursion and died of starvation in the jungle. "The precise fate of
Carney remains unknown to CIA," the report concludes.
The report leaves little doubt, however, that Reyes Mata was executed by
Honduran military officers. It cites an earlier intelligence report that
"specifically named [deleted] having killed Reyes Mata some days after his
capture in Olancho."
Peacock said the deletion of the officer's name is one of numerous
troubling redactions. She noted that an entire section on CIA accountability
and most of a section on the possible involvement of a CIA employee at a
hostile interrogation session had been blacked out. "Summary execution is
not a legal way of dealing with political prisoners," Peacock said. "We've
been assured that this document was given heavy scrutiny to give us as
much information as [the CIA] could. I'd like to assume that our
intelligence committees are on top of this and asking the hard questions,
but I don't think that's happened."
An aide on the Senate intelligence committee who has reviewed both the
classified and declassified versions of the inspector general's report said
that Shelby, the committee chairman, is "very pleased with the
declassification process. We feel it was done in concert with protecting
sources and methods and [provides as much information] as possible."
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